Personal Experience As a Therapy Tool

My name is Teresa Baker and I have lived with a serious mental illness for as long as I can remember. I know everyone’s experience with mental illness is different, but one thing we do share is that we fight invisible battles every day. That reality follows you through life.  Through every mundane thing, through every hard thing, and through happy times and bad. At first you try to hide it, then you make excuses for it. Ultimately, you have to face the truth of your symptoms and find a way through it.

I have been with Aspire Indiana for about 15 years now. For the first 12 years or so, I worked in group homes. I was drawn to the work. Having a family history of mental illness and living with my own symptoms over the years gave me a unique perspective for the mentally ill. I’ve always been able to find common ground with our consumers and understand their situations a little better than others who did not have personal experience. It was about 3 years ago when I met a Certified Recovery Specialist (CRS). We worked the same shift and we were able to share our personal experiences with mental illness. It was so nice having someone to talk to that knew what it was like to try to live a “normal” life and to fight through symptoms every day. That’s when she told me about becoming a CRS. Not long after that, I enrolled in the class and became a Certified Peer Specialist.

I have always had shared experience with the clients, but my education taught me how to use my lived experience to better serve others. Gone was all that remained in me of the notion that I was the expert who was supposed to tell others how to live. For the first time, the difference between me and them, staff and client, just fell away. I came out of that class a different person. My eyes were opened to all of the wondrous possibilities that a Peer can offer to a fellow person who is suffering with symptoms and trying to go through some of the struggles I lived through. I have a new purpose. My new mission is to walk beside the people who come to us seeking help and safety and to let them know, I know. To brush the tears away and tell them they are not alone anymore. To walk beside them with empathy and support as they discover their own recovery path that will lead them to finding happiness and fulfillment. But most of all, to give them hope. I have come to know that even though my own struggle is ongoing, I can still be a beacon of hope to others who are feeling like they will never be able to reach their goals. I can still be living proof that coping skills and medications work, that bad days aren’t forever, and that their lives and dreams are worth fighting for! I walk beside my clients, I lift them up when they can’t do it themselves, and I inspire hope for the future when they are lost in the darkness.  I share so much with the people I work with, and they see me as someone they can trust to be on their side and to understand their struggles. This work, and these people, have made me a better person. They help me as much as I help them. I have found my purpose in this work and I know it is what I am meant to do. I am proud to be a peer to these wonderful people, and I no longer hide my illness in the shadows.
My name is Teresa Baker, and I battle Major Depression with Anxiety and Panic Disorder.


Teresa Baker 

Certified Recovery Specialist,  Aspire Indiana

Watch this video to learn more about Peer Specialist roles at Aspire Indiana




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Aspire Indiana Health loves Million Hearts

Blogging for health

February, 2017

The heart is an amazing machine. It works like a machine and is consistent like a machine, but yet it is a muscle. But also like a machine, this muscle needs maintenance, prevention and treatments to keep it running in tip top shape!  This muscle is one complicated machine!

Your strong adult heart muscle pumps 2000 gallons of blood a day, beats at least 86,400 times a day, and it is responsible for keeping all of the organs in your body alive. That is a pretty big job for a muscle that is about the size of a fist and weighs only 8 to 10 ounces.

Your heart deserves maintenance, prevention and treatment just like a machine. If you haven’t had your cholesterol checked lately (prevention), now might be a good time to do this, especially if you are a male over 35 years old or a female over 45 years old.  You should also get your blood pressure checked. Do you need to be on medication?  If your blood pressure is consistently over 140 / 90, chances are you need a “treatment” for your heart — otherwise known as a blood pressure medication.

And how do you maintain your heart machine?  Exercising, eating right, and stopping smoking go a long way to help your heart stay healthy and working like the machine that it is.

The Million Hearts Initiative is an organized national effort to decrease heart disease and the chronic health conditions that it causes, such as stroke, congestive heart failure, and heart attack. This initiative focuses on the above mentioned activities: cholesterol testing, BP checking, smoking cessation and exercising.  This is an example of an Evidence Based Practice guideline that Aspire Indiana Health uses as we care for you and your important heart machine.

We look forward to seeing you at one of our four locations, and a heartfelt thank you for reading!
To Good Heart Health,


Syd Ehmke, NP

COO, Aspire Indiana Health


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Preventing Infant Death

Aspire Indiana Health Inc recently received it first ever grant!  And what a better grant than to work with our community partners to help decrease the infant mortality rate in Indiana!  Read all about our plans for this grant from the Indiana State Department of Health here.

Infant mortality is defined as the death of a baby before the age of one. There are many reasons why babies die early, and it is our mission at Aspire Indiana Health to help stop this tragedy from occurring.  

The first reason for infant mortality that we would like to educate our readers about is SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. This has also been called “crib” death. There is a lot we do not know about this mysterious phenomenon, but there are a few things that we do know that are important to pass on to you. Whether you are a baby sitter, grandma, mom, dad, brother, cousin or sister, you may, at some time, put a baby to bed and should know some ways to help prevent SIDS. Here are some helpful tips:

1) Always put your baby to sleep on his or her back.

2) Don’t use bumper pads on the crib.

3) No blankets, pillows, or stuffed animals in the crib with your baby.

4) Never let your baby sleep on a soft surface like a pillow, sheepskin, couch or recliner.

5) Never put your baby in your bed with you or anyone else.

5) Sit upright and be awake when feeding baby.  

When you come to see the healthcare providers at Aspire Indiana Health, don’t be surprised if they bring a baby doll into the room and demonstrate putting a baby “back to sleep”.  This is how serious we are about helping to reduce the tragedy of infant death from occurring.

Until next time…. and to good health!


Syd Ehmke, NP

COO, Aspire Indiana Health Inc.

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Mental Health: There’s an App for That


                                                                                                                                            illustration by Oliver Munday 

myStrength Mobile App Extends Treatment 24/7

Mary is a single parent who works hard to support herself and her two children, ages 4 and 7. In addition to her work at a bank, she attends church, visits her parents when she can, and tries to keep herself fit through exercise and diet. She dates on occasion and has friends she tries to see once in awhile.

Mary also experiences episodes of depression and anxiety. For the past two years she has been in recovery from alcohol addiction. It has been difficult to attend her Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and see her therapist on any regular basis, but she does the best she can.  She would like to see her therapist more often, but just can’t find the time.  

According to SAMHSA’s 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) (PDF | 3.4 MB) an estimated 43.6 million (18.1%) Americans ages 18 and up experienced some form of mental illness. In the past year, 20.2 million adults (8.4%) had a substance use disorder. Of these, 7.9 million people had both a mental disorder and substance use disorder, also known as co-occurring mental and substance use disorders.

Today Mary is feeling particularly tense and worried. She knows she tends to overreact and worry more than she needs to, but once she starts thinking about all of the things going on and what might go wrong she can’t seem to turn it off. She has been doing pretty good, and is proud of her progress and recovery from addiction. Since she stopped drinking and started therapy, her life is no longer in chaos. Still, she struggles with managing her mood and anxiety.

Mary takes out her smartphone and opens her myStrength app. She has already set the app up with shortcuts to helpful videos and tools that have been tailored to her own personal issues and challenges. She quickly pulls up the video she wants on reducing worry. Take a deep breath, focus on the here and now, interrupt the internal chattering, relax. The video helps guide Mary on the steps to take to relax and focus.

She reviews some of the things that she and her therapist have been working on. The app has been set up to remind her of how to manage her feelings and racing thoughts.  It is really helpful to have something to look at and not just try to remember everything talked about in her therapy sessions, especially when her anxiety seems to take over.


According to Monitor On Psychology (November, 2016), there are more than 165,000 health-related apps worldwide, helping users track their diet and exercise, monitor their moods, and even manage chronic diseases. Nearly 30 percent of these apps are dedicated to mental health (Novotney, 2016).

In May of this year Aspire made the web-based myStrength program and the mobile app version available to all of its employees. Clients with substance use disorders (SUD) were also provided access to both the web-based and smartphone versions. All clients at Aspire are able to sign up for myStrength at no charge. 

myStrength provides videos, motivational content, brief articles, and many other tools for working on issues related to depression, anxiety, emotional trauma, and substance abuse. Information on topics ranging from anger management, parenting,  PTSD, and the effects of different drugs is now available at the client’s fingertips.

Some of the tools ask a client to rate feelings, put in thoughts, create action plans, and monitor their successes. In this way, myStrength becomes a very individualized and personal tool.

The information a client shares in myStrength is absolutely confidential. Aspire does not collect any personal information entered into myStrength. While Aspire does track aggregate data on total number of clients using myStrength and on what problem areas seem to interest clients the most, no individual or personal information is tracked or traced to a specific person. This is true for employees as well.

In addition to the personal benefits of using myStrength, Aspire therapists, care coordinators, recovery coaches, and life skill trainers are discovering how myStrength can be a useful tool in “extending” the impact of treatment. While not a direct connection to the therapist (like a chat line or e-mail/messenger service), using myStrength helps keep the client connected to the focus of treatment and provides important motivation for success.

This extension of therapy means that at any time a client can simply log in to get personally tailored information and numerous tools directly related to their therapy goals. It provides coaching, reminders, and a library of information…. all in their pocket.

If a client does not have a smartphone or computer they can use a computer while in a session at Aspire. The clinician can work with the client to identify relevant content and print information to take home.

Aspire is continually looking for ways to enhance treatment and better serve an ever-increasing client population. myStrength is a tool that does both.



About the Author:  Dan Brown is the Lead Clinician of Addiction Services at Aspire Indiana’s Outpatient Services office in Carmel, Indiana. 
Learn more about Aspire Indiana on our website or on Facebook


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How do we face addiction?

Aspire is actively participating in a project with Ball State University entitled, “Facing Addiction”.  The objective of the partnership is to strengthen communities through the stories of people.  What stories would the people who face addiction every day have to tell?  I think they will say that they feel shame and guilt and stuck with their addiction.  I think they will say that there are not enough resources for them and that they are tired of feeling sick and tired.  I think they will say they are terrified and angry and sometimes feel hopeless.  As treatment providers, we hear their stories and their pain. Our clients often  hear the voice of their addiction that tells them that they will never be free of their addiction.  

The truth is that today, there are not enough treatment providers or facilities to take care of all the people who need care.  Incarcerating people who are addicted without treatment doesn’t help them recover. It doesn’t help to shame people about why they started in the first place.  Nobody ever wakes up one day and thinks, “I want to be an addict.”

Addiction does not discriminate and neither should access to recovery.  There remains a very large gap between people who have the ability to access treatment and those who do not. At  Aspire we join others in advocating for people who need treatment versus incarceration and we invest in recovery supports, like medication assisted treatment to help people get back on their feet, get back to work, and support themselves and their families. We come alongside our criminal justice partners to educate and work with them so that there is a mutual understanding about what trauma does to a person’s spirit.  People who are not able to abstain from drugs frequently have a history of trauma, whether that trauma is physical, verbal, sexual or emotional.  We want to help without judging because many treatment providers have traveled on the same  road, albeit years ago, and know that, but “for the grace of our Higher Power” we may not have lived long, useful and happy lives.

My hope for the Facing Addiction project in which we are participating, is that we continue to chip away and finally eliminate the shame and stigma that prevents people from coming to treatment.  I think we are actually making some progress in this battle.  More and more people who have struggled with addiction are coming forward to tell their story and how they came to accept that they needed help.  Few people recover without supportive others who are holding them accountable and helping them understand that they aren’t bad people.  Today, Nov. 3, 2016, my father would have been 100 years old had he lived.  What is important to me is that he died at age 85 as a sober man who enjoyed life, sports, and his grandkids.  People who suffer from an addiction are ill.  As we hear the stories of family members, co-workers, friends, and those who are addicted, we hope to shed more light on recovery, and help our communities understand that addiction is treatable, and treatment works!  

Susie Maier, LCSW, LCAC & Business Development & Marketing Director for Aspire Indiana.


Posted in Addiction, criminal justice, Health, Marketing, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Recovery, trauma | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Integrity–A Personal Code of Conduct

binocularsWelcome back to my blog!  In the space between my last Blog in May and this one, I lost a little steam.  This is the fifth blog post in a series of six that focus on the Aspire Values.  Ironically, this one is on Integrity.  At Aspire, we define Integrity as “doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.”

So let me do the right thing by fulfilling my commitment to writing this blog, even if no one is reading!

Integrity isn’t about following rules; it is a personal code of conduct, defined by one’s values. Integrity means living out your values without regard to how it reflects on you.

Organizations can also be intentional about its values.. Aspire has done that with its PILLAR values – People, Integrity, Laughter, Learning, Accountability, Relationships. I recently attended an executive roundtable led by Jim Schleckser, an author who advises leaders and companies. He said that an organization’s values help all employees know what to do when there is no one to ask. It is how we manage the ‘white space’ or what I would refer to as the behaviors and actions that are not covered in rules, policies, procedures and written codes of conduct. This is a great extension of our value of integrity–doing the right thing when no one is looking or when there is no one to ask!

So, next time you encounter a difficult situation at work where your behaviors are totally up to you, ask yourself, “Am I living out the Aspire Values?” If you can’t confidently say yes, consider an alternative behavior, even if it is the more difficult action! Notice how you feel. Living intentionally is powerful!
While Integrity is personal and not meant to be bragged about, we didn’t say anything about not bragging on each other! Remember, we have a NEW recognition program at Aspire called, “Way to Go!” This is an opportunity for Aspire employees to recognize each other, and for the community to recognize Aspire staff for outstanding work. Everyone can find the recognition form on our website, under “Way to Go!” and Aspire employees can also find it in the Aspire App under “People”. Aspire, I encourage you to be on the lookout for integrity in the workplace, along with our other values, and don’t hesitate to recognize and celebrate each other!


bios_scottAbout the Author: Barbara Scott is the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Aspire Indiana. Learn more about Aspire Indiana on Facebook or at its website.

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Suicide Risk: Clinical Training

In my last post I wrote about Aspire’s BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) of 0 after 5 (zero suicides after 5 years), in a post titled, “0 in 5: Our Suicide Goal”. In that post I outlined our 5 steps to achieving that goal:

  1. Train employees
  2. Supply clinical decision support tools
  3. Engage those at risk
  4. Implement care protocols that will provide the greatest safety
  5. Use data to improve the effectiveness of these over time

In this post, I will be giving an update on our progress and the strategies utilized to train employees. For those with Zero Suicide Initiatives underway,  I hope this post will provide an opportunity for dialogue on best practices and lessons learned for mutual benefit; I welcome your feedback! For all others, I hope you find encouragement from the progress being made and that this post will help you lend your voice to Zero Suicide Initiatives by staying informed and engaged with this issue. So now to the topic at hand…

When Aspire first began working on this zero suicide initiative in mid 2014, we formed a work-group (the opportunity was missed for “A-Team” or “Z-Team”) of clinical managers, crisis manager, and administrators to lead the effort. Before charging into the fray, we spent several months learning about how other organizations are working to improve care in this area.  In doing so, we found some sound advice from peers that suggested we survey our employees to determine what they already know (or don’t) and what their attitudes and perceptions were surrounding suicide.  So we did! We had a tremendous response from our employees, with about 70% of respondents being clinical providers.  Only 39% of respondents reported any classroom (graduate or undergraduate) level training surrounding suicide and 29% reported they don’t always ask about suicide with new clients.  Finally, only 2% accurately reported the number of deaths by suicide at Aspire that year, with 39% underestimating the number and 59% responding “I don’t know”.  This survey gave us a great deal of information about where we were and how to start the training process.

qprAs we analyzed the results of the survey, we recognized a glaring need that had to be addressed immediately, and that was for our front-desk employees. Anyone who comes through our organization is first met by a front-desk support employee, so it was imperative that they knew to recognize the signs of someone who may be suicidal so they can be connected the proper services as quickly as possible. So we began by providing training for front-desk support employees in QPR (Question Persuade Refer).  This is a national training to assist the public in identifying and acting when they encounter someone who may be suicidal.

Building a training paradigm for our behavioral health service providers was no small task. Many of our behavioral health service providers seemed to believe that treatment of suicide risk occurs in an inpatient setting or is best addressed by treating an overarching condition such as Major Depression.  Neither of these responses reflect the most recent research or inpatient discharge data. So we were struck by this question: How do you impart a lot of information, tools, and techniques onto an audience that is spread across 4 counties, among 18 clinical teams, with new clinical employees arriving every week?  We decided on a training program that consists of several tiered training sessions.

Live training was provided by our clinical trainer and a facility director on how to assess individuals for suicide risk.  This was training in large part about how to have the clinical conversation about suicide, what to look for, and when and how to question deeper than the initial response.  It was also designed to supplement our existing online training, while educating employees about misconceptions and information obtained in our survey.

notes-macbook-study-conferenceAfter the trainers made their rounds to teams for the live training, we initiated training in the use of the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale (CSSRS).  The work-team selected this tool to replace our existing, outdated risk factors rating system, because of its researched validity and reliability, widespread use among fellow treatment providers and ease of use and training for clinical employees.  The CSSRS has been identified as the premier tool for identifying those at risk for suicide and developing an initial care plan, and we wanted the best.

We are now in the process of rolling out new treatment protocols, which were developed with the assistance of Jeffrey Garbelman, Ph.D.  Dr. Garbelman is a trainer for CSSRS, and was able to share treatment protocol ideas from other service providers. The workteam has established and is piloting a set of clinical guidelines/protocols to improve the safety of our consumers at various levels of risk for suicide.  Dr. Garbelman endorsed our protocols, and as we implement them and finalize them, he has committed to work with us to seek endorsement by Columbia University. Live training has been provided to our roll out teams about the content of these protocols and they have set out to begin using them.

In the fall we are providing training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Suicidality.  This training will provide clinicians with evidence based training in the treatment of suicide.  This treatment is applied directly to suicidal thoughts and behaviors, rather than working to only treat an overarching condition.

Finally, we intend to wrap up all trainings with one overall final training that utilizes case examples and has the provider apply the knowledge of all four trainings into the review of the care of sample cases.  Sort of a final project, if you will, on using the information obtained in the training.  

These tiered trainings and the details within them are highly complex, require new learning (as well as some “unlearning” of old paradigms) and require ongoing decision at the provider, team, and supervisor levels. For full and effective adoption, we are planning for annual refreshers to ensure skills and knowledge aren’t lost. To assist in that effort we are introducing clinical decision support tools within our EMR.  Built in items like Safety Plans, CSSRS, flagging for high risk missed appointments, protocol explanations, etc will be vital to assist everyone to be on the same page and provide consistently high safety care to our consumers.  

That wraps up our efforts thus far to train staff and our plans to keep them trained in the future in order to know how to recognize the signs of suicide risk and the proper steps to take in order to prevent it.

Stay tuned…more about our Zero Suicide Initiative in future postings!

So what do you think? What is your organization doing to reduce the rate of suicide in your consumers? As a member of society, what do you see as your role in reducing and eliminating suicide? Share your responses to these questions or thoughts and feedback of your own using the comment feature below!

ProfileAbout the Author: Jim Skeel is the Senior Director, Performance and Outcomes of Aspire Indiana. Learn more about Aspire on our website, or on Facebook.

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